It was just a simple reaction.
That’s what Craig Mathis says after he heard a woman’s screams on the Blue Line tracks in Forest Park on the early morning of June 10. While walking on the Circle Avenue bridge, Mathis and another person saw two people struggling on the tracks.
“At first I thought someone had fallen on the third rail,” Mathis, 31, says.
Mathis interrupted what turned out to be a sexual assault in progress at around 2 a.m. at ground level near the tracks below. By the time Mathis and the other person got to the top of the bridge, they could see a man straddled on top of a screaming woman lying on the ground. They started to yell, Mathis recalled.
“I remembered I had a train card. So I darted through the turnstile and started running down the ramp,” he said — his companion dialed 911.
Chester White, 48, of Chicago was arrested by Forest Park police and charged with sexually-assaulting a woman he grabbed on the platform. The 5’3,” 100-pound victim told police that White allegedly approached her as she stood alone on the platform and told her he “wanted sex.” She told police White grabbed her and said, “If you don’t do this you’ll end up on the tracks.”
The two struggled and fell off the platform, with the woman hitting the back of her head on the ground. She told police White attempted to pull off her pants — that’s when the two men reached the top of the bridge.
Mathis said he reached the el platform and saw that the attacker had walked quickly away to the exit. He said he pulled the woman from the tracks and sat her down to ask if she was all right.
“My whole mindset was to go get that guy,” Mathis said.
He asked the victim if the attacker had displayed a gun or a weapon. “I told her, ‘sit down and don’t go anywhere.'”
Mathis — still dressed in athletic clothes from an earlier softball game — threw his keys and wallet on the platform and started to run towards the offender, staying on the opposite side of the platform dividers to avoid being seen.
“That’s when I saw the police in about seven squad cars drive up at Harlem Avenue; I was amazed how quickly they got there,” he said. “I thought, ‘Lucky for you, buddy, because I didn’t get to you first.’ I’m in excellent shape, and it would not have been a good day for him.”
Police said Mathis pointed out the offender and then led them to the victim, who complained of rib pain and had cuts on her hands. She declined medical attention.
“After the craziness was over, I was just happy this lady’s alive and well and walking around,” Mathis said.
A property manager in Oak Park, Mathis said he had been out in Forest Park with his softball team after their defeat earlier in the day. He was also out celebrating another milestone: It had been 11 months since he donated a kidney to a childhood friend.
“I’m Oak Park, born and raised, and a very social person, so I’ve told plenty of people about my kidney donation,” Mathis said.
Mike Keating, a detective with the Forest Park police, credits Mathis for his quick-thinking, and he plans to ask the Forest Park government to honor Mathis with an award.
And with a slew of television interviews done since the incident, Mathis says the attention has been “a great ride” but insists he’s not seeking attention or rewards for his actions. Instead, he’s hoping the publicity will drum up some business for his July 12 fundraiser for Donate Life Illinois at the Fizz Bar and Grill in Chicago.
The best thing so far, he added, was the appreciation of his softball colleagues at their game following the incident. When he came up to bat for his team, the pitcher took off his glove and the entire opposing team gave him a standing ovation.
“I was really wowed by that,” Mathis said.
Jean Lotus is editor of Forest Park Review